Former Dallas detective famously photographed escorting Lee Harvey Oswald dies at 99

Aug 29 - Jim Leavelle, the Dallas police detective who handcuffed himself to Lee Harvey Oswald in a vain attempt to protect him two days after Oswald had assassinated President John Kennedy, died on Thursday at age 99, his daughter said.

Leavelle, who lived in the Dallas area, died in Colorado during a vacation, Karla Leavelle said by phone. He fell earlier in the week and broke his hip, surviving a subsequent medical operation but not the recovery, she said.

He became a part of history with Oswald and Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby as they were all captured in a dramatic photograph snapped as Ruby fatally shot Oswald on Nov. 24, 1963.

Leavelle, who as a young sailor had survived Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, was a 13-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department when he was put in charge of moving Oswald, a 24-year-old former Marine, from police headquarters to the county jail as the nation grieved for Kennedy.

The cop had no qualms about protecting the man accused of killing the president but before Leavelle could get him to his armored transport vehicle, Ruby fatally shot Oswald. The slaying was broadcast live to stunned television viewers.

"He died, didn't he?" Leavelle said of Oswald in a 2013 interview with NBC News. "So, I ... so yeah, I failed."

A Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by Bob Jackson of the Dallas Times Herald - snapped immediately after Ruby fired - captured the shock and drama of the moment.

Leavelle, dressed in a light colored suit and high-crowned hat, is seen arching backward with a stunned look focused on Ruby. His left hand - the one handcuffed to Oswald - is grasping the waistband of Oswald's pants. Oswald's face is contorted as he cringes from the gunshot while a hunched-over Ruby is seen from the back, his pistol still pointed at Oswald.

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** FILE ** Lee Harvey Oswald, assassin of President John F. Kennedy, reacts as Dallas night club owner Jack Ruby, foreground, shoots at him from point blank range in a corridor of Dallas police headquarters, Nov. 24, 1963. At left is Detective Jim Leavelle. Leavelle wanted to secretly take Oswald out the side door of Dallas police headquarters on that day forty-five years ago. His boss wanted to keep a promise to reporters. So Leavelle handcuffed himself to President Kennedy's assasin, stepped into a crowded basement and became an accidental part of history. (AP Photo/Dallas Times-Herald, Bob Jackson) ** MANDATORY CREDIT ** NO SALES ** TV OUT **
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR FOR DISCOVERY COMMUNICATIONS LLC - Kate Griendling, producer, embraces her grandfather Jim Leavelle during the world premiere screening of the Military Channel's 'Capturing Oswald' on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, at the Texas Theatre in Dallas. (Matt Strasen/AP Images for Discovery Communications LLC)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR FOR DISCOVERY COMMUNICATIONS LLC - From left, Alan Martin, director, Kevin Bennett, general manager of Military Channel, Elmer Boyd, Paul McCaghren, Kate Griendling, producer, Jim Leavelle, Jim Ewell, Henry Schleiff, president of Military Channel, and Lee Bartlett, Discovery Studios, during the world premiere screening of the Military Channel's Capturing Oswald, Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, at the Texas Theatre in Dallas. (Matt Strasen/AP Images for Discovery Communications LLC)
Retired Dallas Police Department Detective Jim Leavelle poses in the former book depository building, now known as The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shots killing President John F. Kennedy, in Dallas, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008. Detective Leavelle wanted to secretly take Oswald out the side door of Dallas police headquarters on Nov. 24, 1963. His boss wanted to keep a promise to reporters. So Leavelle handcuffed himself to President Kennedy's assasin, stepped into a crowded basement and became an accidental part of history. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Retired Dallas Police Detective Jim Leavelle recounts to an audience at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, of the day Lee Harvey Oswald was killed while he was handcuffed to him, in Dallas, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008. Detective Jim Leavelle wanted to secretly take Lee Harvey Oswald out the side door of Dallas police headquarters on Nov. 24, 1963. His boss wanted to keep a promise to reporters. So Leavelle handcuffed himself to President Kennedy's assassin, stepped into a crowded basement and became an accidental part of history. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
NBC NEWS: SPECIAL REPORT -- "Assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald" -- Pictured: Dallas homicide detective Jim Leavelle (in hat) reacts to the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963 at the Dallas Police Headquarters in Dallas, Texas -- (Photo by: NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
NBC NEWS: SPECIAL REPORT -- "Assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald" -- Pictured: (l-r) Dallas homicide detective Jim Leavelle, John F. Kennedy's assassin Lee Harvey Oswald moments before Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963 at the Dallas Police Headquarters in Dallas, Texas -- (Photo by: NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
The suit worn by Dallas Homicide Detective Jim Leavelle is seen in front of a photo of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby in the Sixth Floor Museum formally the site of the Texas School Book Depository October 8, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. The sixth floor of the Dallas County Administration Building now houses the Sixth Floor Museum which is dedicated to the history behind the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. November 22 will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK in Dallas's Dealey Plaza. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Former Dallas police detective Jim Leavelle stands in front of a Pultizer Prize winning photo at The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, October 15, 2002. Leavelle stood front and center in arguably one of the most famous news photographs of all time with a shocked look on his face as Lee Harvey Oswald, withering in pain, was shot by Jack Ruby in the basement of Dallas police headquarters on November 24, 1963. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz/FOR FEATURE STORY PEOPLE-LEAVELLE
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Police had received dozens of death threats against Oswald so Leavelle decided to carry two handguns that day instead of his usual one in case there was a shootout. As a further precaution, he not only handcuffed Oswald's wrists together, he handcuffed his left wrist to Oswald's right.

'Nobody's gonna shoot at me'

"I said, 'Lee, if anybody shoots at you, I hope they're as good a shot as you are,'" Leavelle told the New York Daily News in 2013. "I meant that they would hit him and not me.

"And he said, 'Nobody's gonna shoot at me.' Famous last words."

Leavelle's mission was to guide Oswald past reporters and photographers so the world could see Oswald had not been injured in police custody. But as they went through the crowd in the basement of the police headquarters, up stepped Ruby, who was a familiar figure to many Dallas police officers. Leavelle said he spotted Ruby's .38-caliber handgun as he aimed it at Oswald.

"I didn't have time to do anything," Leavelle told Reuters in a 2002 interview. "I did try to pull him (Oswald) behind me. I had him by the belt as well. I turned to him and instead of pulling him behind me, I turned his body. Instead of that bullet hitting him dead center, it hit about 4 inches to the left of the navel."

After the shot, Leavelle used his free right hand to try to contain Ruby while other officers swarmed in. Leavelle rode in the ambulance with Oswald to Parkland Hospital - the same place Kennedy had been taken two days earlier and where Oswald died about two hours after the shooting.

The day after the Oswald killing, Leavelle transferred Ruby between facilities - this time in secret - and Ruby told him he feared someone would try to kill him, too.

In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, Leavelle said he told Ruby, "Jack, you didn't do any favors when you shot Oswald."

He said Ruby, who would die of cancer in 1967, replied: "All I wanted to be was a hero and it looks like I just messed things up."

Leavelle retired in 1975 and 50 years after the Kennedy and Oswald killings, the Dallas Police Department gave him a commendation and renamed its detective of the year award for him.

He was married to Taimi Leavelle for 73 years until her death in October 2014.

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